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Fire chief completes a first year filled with change

One year after he became Farmington’s first full-time fire chief, Jim Larsen leads a department he says is better organized, more accountable and more engaged with the community it serves.

Larsen, whose one-year probationary period is now over, said he arrived to find a department with plenty of good people but not much structure.

“There was not a lot of organization in the department,” he said. “We needed to determine our core values and what our specific missions were.

“We worked hard to bring accountability to the organization from the top on down, and, more importantly, from the bottom up.”

City administrator David McKnight said that kind of organization was part of the reason hiring a full-time fire chief came up as a priority when city council members set their goals in early 2014. The city put money for the position into its 2015 budget and hired Larsen last April.

Over the past year, Larsen has reorganized the department and led firefighters through a process to identify the department’s core values. He has put a focus on training. Everyone in the department is now certified as a fire officer, and Larsen expects everyone to soon be certified as an instructor.

There has also been a new focus on getting the department the equipment it needs. The department has bought new radios and recently received a donation from the Rotary Club of Farmington to update its pagers. It has replaced or repurposed some of its vehicles and recently added gear dryers at each fire station.

Those dryers are important, Larsen said, because fire residue has been shown to contribute to high levels of cancer among firefighters. Without the dryers, it can take days for fire gear to dry after it has been washed.

The changes have not been universally well-received. Some firefighters objected to the elimination of a dedicated rescue squad, and some left the department. Overall numbers are up now, though, from around 43 when Larsen started to 46. The department is budgeted for 50 members.

“Change is difficult,” Larsen said. “We had our share of growing pains, and we lost some people along the way.”

He calls the firefighters who remain on the department the greatest he’s worked with in 35 years as a firefighter.

Larsen said the department doubled its participation in the city’s park and pond cleanup day last weekend, and firefighters have been active in other ways, too, both within the department and in the community.

“All of the members have put in way more work in the last year than they have in the past,” McKnight said. “I appreciate them for that.”

Larsen is happy with the progress the department has made in his first year, and he’s still looking ahead.

“Our entire organization is all in,” he said. “They like where we’re at, and they’re excited about our future.”

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

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